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Memorial Day is right around the corner and will be observed on Monday, May 31, 2021: the final day of Military Appreciation Month, which is celebrated in the U.S. each May. 

With COVID-19 restrictions easing up, you may see a return to “typical” Memorial Day activities  like cookouts and BBQs, flash sales, and pool parties, which begs the question: is this really the best way to celebrate Memorial Day? After all, wasn’t this holiday founded to honor and commemorate those who sacrificed their lives for our country?

It’s true that nearly every U.S. national holiday has been commercialized: Thanksgiving, Valentine’s Day, and arguably more than any other, Christmas. But the commercialization of holidays like Memorial Day and Veterans Day seems especially irksome. In light of that context, here are our best tips to help your organization honor this holiday appropriately.

Below, you’ll find some key data points as well as best practices for celebrating Memorial Day at work.

The Numbers

First, let’s dig into some data. Memorial Day is meant to honor all of the people who have died while serving in all of the U.S. military branches. Although remembrances, celebrations, and common images of veterans often focus on the military service of those who fought in World War I, World War II, The Korean War, or The Vietnam War, it’s important to remember that a veteran is not only an elderly person who served decades ago. Servicepeople come from all generations and demographics

Both living veterans and armed service members who died in service can be as young as their teenage years and may have served in a whole host of battles, wars, occupations, or deployments like The Gulf War, Afghanistan, Iraq, and dozens of others. Peacetime veterans are especially likely to be forgotten in our celebrations of military service. Yet, Memorial Day is meant to honor all of them. 

Now, if we look at the number of military fatalities in all major wars involving the U.S, from 1775 to 2021, the total number is quite shocking… over 1.3 million people. When we consider the effect of those individual deaths on family, friends, neighbors, teachers, co-workers, etc., it’s easy to see that almost no Americans’ life has been untouched by the ultimate sacrifices of our armed services members. 

In other words, the odds are good that a significant portion of your workforce has been impacted by military service — either their own or someone else’s — making it ever more important to commemorate Memorial Day with respect, appreciation, and empathy.

Actions to Take

First and foremost, acknowledge the day and what it stands for. Consider sending an internal newsletter that quickly details the history of Memorial Day and the actions your organization is taking to support veterans and military families. Maybe your organization has an ERG (employee resource group) specifically for veterans. Maybe you have a mentorship program in place. Or, maybe you are just getting started. Wherever you are on your inclusion journey, that’s ok! Just make sure to outline the steps you are taking and plan to take to foster an inclusive and welcoming environment.

Make sure to also acknowledge that a percentage of your employees may have lost loved ones who served in the military and thus might be less productive and more distracted in the days leading up to and following Memorial Day. Make sure to give employees the space they need to grieve before returning to work. Granting employees grace and space demonstrates empathy and increases productivity in the long run.

Also, take a moment to personally recognize the veterans and military families within your organization. Ask if any of the veterans, military family members, or friends in your organization would like to share photos or stories to highlight their lost loved ones. Communicate these stories both internally and externally via email, social, etc. Sometimes the simple act of listening to someone’s story can be the most meaningful.

Consider donating time or money as well. Come together as an organization to donate to causes such as FallenPatriots.org, which raises money to provide college education to the 20,000 children who have lost a parent who was an active service person in the military over the last 35 years. Maybe your organization can even afford to match employee donations.

A company-wide day of service is also a great idea, as these events are often the most successful volunteer programs that companies have. Visit a local VA hospital, homeless shelter, USO center, or other facility where veterans or their families may benefit from your service. If you are local to Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina, where TDM is headquartered, consider volunteering at the Durham VA Medical Center, You Call This Yoga, or Vets to Vets United.

You may also want to shop at more veteran-owned businesses or consider recruiting more veteran talent through veteran-driven job boards like MilitaryHire.com. Veterans often face challenges when moving into civilian jobs because their resumes don’t line up 1-to-1 with job qualifications. However, it’s important to note that the skills they’ve learned through their service are transferable and lead to important soft skills such as clear communication, management skills, discipline and focus, and more.

Finally, listen, read, watch, and learn. Listen to podcasts produced by veterans or military families, read books, watch movies, and take. it. in. Make sure you are focused and present in these moments; turn off your phone, close your laptop, and be open to what you may learn along the way. Consider some of our suggestions for learning, below.

Memorial Day has the power to be a well-acknowledged and celebrated holiday within your organization, or it can come across as just another 3-day weekend. As a leader, you have the responsibility to strive for a truly respectful celebration, so put together an initial plan, then iterate and evolve it, year after year. A dedicated effort is all it takes to create major impact.

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